Resources from Building Better Surfaces EECast 6-4-2008

I am constantly looking for more resources to fill in the gaps of what I know about terrain modeling. They didn’t really teach it in school (or maybe I wasn’t there that day), and I have never been able to find much that was universally helpful. My EECast today was based on tidbits gained from many sources.

See the complete list of links, books and tutorials after the jump.


Delaunay Triangulation on Wikipedia

Mathworld on Delaunay Triangulation

AU attendees can view classes at the links below. I believe subscription customers can, too.

David Garrigues’s AU Class: Caffeinated Grading

Eric Chappell’s AU Class: No Building Pads Allowed

Eric Chappell’s AU Class: Think Outside the Contour


It is hard to find books on this subject. I’ve been collecting old textbooks, second hand treasures and scraps for about twelve years now, and not one book covers everything you need to know (and I still am not 100% sure what all there is to know!) but here are some favorites:

1. While not for the faint of heart, Triangulations and Applications (Mathematics and Visualization) is the only real resource I have been able to find that specifically talks about triangulation and surface theory in the context of GIS and CAD engines. I have only just begun digging through it. I understand about 10% of what I read, but with each page I feel like I “get” it more. For example, I finally understand WHY you can’t have two points with the same X,Y (like a straight faced curb), because the circumcircle from those triangles would include points from other triangles. (See the wiki page on Delaunay Triangulation for an overview.) Plus, I feel extra geeky cool when I walk around holding it. At Food Lion especially.

2. I bought the Land Development Handbook (Handbook)right before I moved back to the US from Canada. I had great fears that I had forgotten the English system of measurement. Since obtaining this book, it has never been more than 10 feet from my hands while I am working. Whenever I have questions on how to grade, I flip to chapter 10. It has some great illustrations about contours in ditches, roads, going up walls, etc.

3. The Topographic Surveying: Engineering Surveyors Reference Manual Guide on CD-ROM by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a good book to have around. My version is a smelly old paper copy (it was smelly when I got in in the mail.) I mostly use this to help me try to figure out what reasonable accuracy and precision are for plans. There are whole tables of standards for vertical and horizontal accuracy, plus information about note taking, symbology and “how to do things the old fashioned way.”

4. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying this text, I have a copy of Surveying (mine’s the 9th edition) because it was my college surveying textbook. It has a good chapter on topography.

5. Modern Topographic Drawing is a book that every Civil Engineering and Technology student should read. Remember the brainwashing scene in LOST? I visualize making slides of each page of this book and playing them on a loop. Anyone who tells me that manual drafting was easier, faster or better than taking the time to learn Civil 3D will be forced to watch each page of this hand-drafting how-to guide flash by. In addition to the “oh WOW people actually did this by hand” factor, it also has some great information about contouring. AND it includes handwriting instruction and an appendix of symbol practice worksheets.

6. While not really a topography book, Construction Of and On Compacted Fills is one of my favorite books. It breaks earthwork down into easy to understand concepts. An excerpt of the book was given to me by my boss at a soil testing lab in 1998. I spent two years with a “get it now” listing on amazon before I found a copy. Since then, the Internet book industry has gotten better and there are active used listings on amazon now. It’s a bit dated- one of the explanations of force involves comparing the force (in psi) that thin women wearing high heels exert on the ground vs. chunky women wearing high heels, but that just makes the book more charming.


imageAbout 8 years ago, I somehow stumbled upon a copy of LARCH, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to my engineering skills. LARCH is a collection of visual tutorials that explain site and road engineering concepts in straightforward terms with great visual aids. My personal favorite is the average end area method explained with a hoagie.

It sounds a little silly, but the concepts are sound, the analogies are great. The roadway design sections, especially the horizontal and vertical curve lessons and quizzes helped me quite a bit for the FE/EIT exam, and I point new engineers and designers to the stormwater and parking lot design sections to help them visualize what happens onsite.

imageI recently picked up a new copy (my CD is long lost) to help me prepare for the session today because I remember it had great topography portion.

It is now only available online at, it costs almost nothing and I highly recommend it. I have permission from Brooks, the author, to use the contour section as part of an EECast in the future.



I’d love to hear what resources you like!


  1. Richard Carter says:


    Great class today! A lot our users ask about triangulation and I don’t always have a good answer for them. Now I understand a bit more of the theory of how surfaces get built. Admittedly, this is an area that I need to work on. After today I think I am off to a good start. I hope you do another class.

    Richard Carter
    Withers & Ravenel, Cary, NC

  2. Som Govender says:


    Your class was excellent. It is a great resource for the young engineer who has never done triangulation by “hand”. The concept is still the same. I have used similar techniques for final grading to construct smooth contours.

  3. Mark Jung says:

    Is a recording of this class going to be available? The links on this post are a great resource. I’d like to be able to hear the great class material…..